Ever caught yourself procrastinating in the morning, only to feel overwhelmed at the end of the day? These two fluctuating states trick you into thinking you can “make” more time for yourself. When at best, you can only organize it. This is exactly what the Pomodoro Technique intends to do: break work into manageable chunks to keep your mind sharp and ready.
Let’s see what this productivity method is all about, along with the best Pomodoro apps to use to get you started.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francisco Cirillo in the late ’80s as a means to study more efficiently. He used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (“pomodoro” in Italian), forced himself to study for exactly 25 minutes, then took a break of 5 minutes. And it worked!
Cirillo discovered that to stay focused you have to work with time, not against it. To follow his advice, divide your projects and tasks into short sprints and reward yourself with regular breaks to recharge before the next sprint. This will boost your productivity and keep the creative juices flowing, without relying too much on your willpower.
Is this it? Frankly, yes. And that’s why the Pomodoro Technique is so attractive. You only need a timer and a paper to keep track of your pomodoros and focus single mindedly on a task.
I’d argue that the length of a work session and break can vary since it takes approximately between 5 and 15 minutes to achieve a flow state.
But here’s how the basic process looks like:
1. Choose a task you want to work on.
2. Set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes, the standard pomodoro duration.
3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro timer rings, then put a checkmark on a paper.
4. Take a short break of 5 minutes to do something non-work-related like stretching or making a call.
5. Take a longer break of 20-30 minutes after every 4 pomodoros. This will help you regroup your thoughts and rest before the next batch of pomodoros.
How the Pomodoro Technique works
Notice a couple of things here. You need to approximate how many pomodoros it takes to finish a task. This information is not ready accessible, but through some trial and error you should get the hang of it.
You also need to set up a timetable. Block your most important pomodoros for when you’re most creative (for me it’s the afternoon) and leave the rest for when you tend to get distracted. The point is to have a clear limit and motivate yourself enough to push things forward, as well as a clear boundary between work and spare time.
As for the pomodoro, know that it is a non-negotiable time unit. This means that whenever an emergency or colleague bumps in with a request, you have to either end the pomodoro right then or protect it from outside distractions until completed. In most cases, you can get by with telling your colleagues to reach out in 10 minutes. Otherwise, use the “inform, negotiate, schedule, call back” approach proposed by Cirillo:
- Inform the other person that you’re in the middle of something important.
- Negotiate with them a time to address the issue.
- Schedule it.
- Call back or give them a nudge when the pomodoro is over.
For distractions that are internal by nature like a new idea or article to read, write it down on your paper and proceed with your work until the Pomodoro timer rings.
The benefits of using the Pomodoro Technique
To get a taste of how your life will look like after using the Pomodoro Technique, here are a few benefits to consider:
Improved concentration power
Not all of us can focus for extended periods of time. But everyone can make a little effort to put their heads down for 25 minutes, work, and take a break after.
In fact, a couple of researchers discovered that brief breaks actually improve the overall concentration power, or vigilance as they call it. They actually reset it, allowing you to start with a clean slate. Much like the bonus parts in most video games.
The Pomodoro Technique rests on the same principle. After each pomodoro, take full advantage of your break to recharge and keep your mind fresh for the next session of work. You’ll reduce the number of mistakes caused by a lack of concentration and avoid burnout in the long run.
Decreased back pain
Ever wondered why everyone is so obsessed with making 10,000 steps each day? As cliche as it may sound, sitting is the new smoking. I’m referring here to the health risks associated with excessive sitting, like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Which, according to this study, can’t be compensated by occasional leisure activities even if they exceed the minimum level of physical activity recommended.
In this context, the Pomodoro method becomes your greatest ally for slipping in more movement throughout the day. Use the five minute break to do a stretch, fill up your water bottle, or just chat with a coworker in the lobby area. Your back and shoulders will thank you later.
Get rid of the perfectionist mindset
This is the creator’s curse, also known as Parkinson’s Law, which I talked about in another article. According to it, work expands to fill the time available for its completion. To put it simply, if you have to complete a one hour task in two days, you’ll probably take the full two days. That’s because perfection sets in, making you fine-tune the task until the very end.
By all means, do what you need to do to create your best work. But don’t get stuck in endless revisions and ship it! Use the strict time limit of a pomodoro as a race to get things done and free up more time for other creative endeavors.
Best Pomodoro apps to try out
Enough with the benefits, time to get to the real work.
Again, because of the method’s simplicity, you only need a kitchen timer and a notebook or piece of paper to keep track of your pomodoros. That’s it. Nothing less, nothing more. This doesn’t give you enough insight into timesheets, the nature of your interruptions, or how did you progress on each of your tasks.
To automate the system and customize it to fit your workflow in terms of session lengths, ticking sounds, alerts, and so on, try out these Pomodoro apps:
1. PomoDone (Web, Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android)
PomoDone Desktop App
Best for: using the Pomodoro Technique with a separate task or project management software
PomoDone connects with a wide variety of project management tools, allowing you to directly import tasks and time entries from the ones that already have a time tracking module – like Paymo.
If you don’t use one, then you can add your own tasks directly into the app. Then clock in using their Pomodoro timer. A pretty robust one I have to say, since you can customize your own session lengths, set auto breaks, and add up an interruption note so you don’t have to rely on a notebook anymore.
PomoDone also comes with a great Chrome Extension that embeds the Pomodoro tracker in certain project management apps and blocks distracting websites if you know yourself to be a slippery procrastinator (I sure am from time to time).
- Lite plan ($2.29/month), with 3 integrations included
- Ultimate plan ($4.01/month), with unlimited integrations and unlimited log access
2. Focus Booster (Web, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)
Focus Booster Mobile App
Best for: freelancers who do client-related work
Focus Booster seems to be a Pomodoro app that’s more oriented towards freelancers and agency owners since you can choose which client to track time for. All pomodoro sessions get automatically logged under a timesheets area, with the possibility to create manual entries on your own. The best part? You can actually export them into a CSV format so it’s much easier to invoice your client at the end of a month or project.
Data nerds, you’re in for a treat. In terms of analytics, you have complete visibility into how you’ve spent your time over a certain period thanks to the Reports Dashboard. This one also includes stats regarding your profitability and percentage of tracked time per each client, so you know which client brings in more cash.
I also like how you can save incomplete sessions and resume them when ready, a feature that will serve well first time Pomodoro users and hybrid fans.
- Free, but limited to 20 sessions
- Individual plan ($2.99/month), with 200 sessions and extended settings
- Unlimited plan ($4.99/month), with unlimited sessions and invoicing
3. Focus Keeper (iOS)
Focus Keeper tracker and chart views
Best for: iOS users
By far, the Focus Keeper Pomodoro app is the closest one to the authentic Pomodoro experience. It features a red background that lets you change the length of the pomodoro through a simple swipe (breaks have a blue one). And a ticking sound to know it’s focus time.
You can also set a goal in terms of the number of sessions you wish to accomplish each day, which I find very helpful. Too bad you can’t name them to know what you’re working on. The app has a notification centre though to remind about your session if you browse other apps on your phone.
There are many ways of customizing this app, from different themes to sounds and alarm levels for each session, short, and long break. Charts over the past 14 and 30 are days are there to help you monitor your productivity, limited to only the past 3 days with the free version.
The Pro one brings 10 premium ticking sounds to get more productive or relaxed, depending on the moment of the Pomodoro cycle, and a full view over your stats.
- Free, limited charts for the past 3 days
- Pro ($1.99/month), unlimited charts plus 10 ticking sounds
4. Focus To-Do: Pomodoro Timer & To Do List (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)
Focus To-Do Mobile App
Best for: Android users
As the name states, Focus To-Do is an all-in-one Pomodoro timer and to-do list. Quite practical, as you can create projects to better categorize sessions, as well as set task priorities for a clear picture on what to work on first. It’s a bit unclear how many projects I’m allowed to create, since the app introduces you in a free trial of the premium version.
Other than that, I like the “Forest” feature which gamifies the whole user experience and let’s you contribute with your actions at growing a plant. If you don’t complete the daily challenges, you guessed it, the plant dies. An interesting way to build up motivation and stick with the Pomodoro Technique.
This Pomodoro timer also comes with a trend chart of all your completed to-dos and statistics over how you’ve spent your time for each project.
- Premium (£2.99/3 months), with unlimited projects, app whitelist, daily/weekly/monthly report, repeating tasks,reminder tasks
5. Marinara Timer (Web)
Shareable links in the Marinara Timer
Best for: teams who want to share their online Pomodoro timers
If you’re looking for a simple Pomodoro app that doesn’t require any setup whatsoever, not even a signup, then Marinara Timer is the way to go. Just open it in a separate web browser tab and pin it there.
In terms of options, you’re lucky enough. The team behind this app thinks the Pomodoro method is a bit too rigid, that’s why they made three timers available:
- A traditional pomodoro with the 25-5 minutes cycles
- Custom one, where you can change the length of each work session and rename them
- Kitchen one, where you set a time limit and let it run backwards
What sets it apart though is the ability to share your timer through a URL. In case you wish to synchronize work with your team and take a break together, or just share your pomodoro clock with a manager. There are two links, an admin one and a viewer link, to avoid stepping on each other’s feet and make sure no timer is stopped by accident. A cautious feature indeed!
Are Pomodoro apps for everyone?
No, not really. The method is best suited for creatives, those who need to ship work and have deadlines in place for them: designers, developers, copywriters, and so on. For them, the boxed sprints might catalyze productivity while also making sure they don’t waste too much time and effort on trivial things.
But what about if you’re a customer support rep or someone who has to do continuous work as it comes in? You can still hack the method and run a few pomodoros back-to-back until you finish the self-imposed target: 50 tickets in one hour, 30 emails in under 30 minutes, you name it. Do a break, then pick up work from where you left it.
It’s not advisable to use a Pomodoro timer when you are engaged in fast-paced projects where changes can occur at any minute. Or when you’re someone who requires a lot of input from the others, like a team leader or sales ops manager.
How does the Pomodoro Technique work with other productivity methods
In essence, a pomodoro focuses more on doing tasks in a timely manner as opposed to planning them. That’s why it’s better to combine it with other productivity methods.
Like the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. Use it to process and organize work, then rely on the Pomodoro Technique to actually get things done. It also works well with the Eisenhower Decision Matrix to prioritize tasks before actually doing them, as well as the Kanban method which relies on continuous delivery and improvement of your workflow. A practice that is also encouraged by Cirillo who insists on spending the first and last 5 minutes of a pomodoro session to recap and review work. For improvement purposes, again.
Don’t overdo this part or else you’ll ruin the simplicity provided by the Pomodoro method.
With the existing theory and best Pomodoro apps at hand, you should already be able to use the method on your own. Yes, it will take some time to get the hang of it, but you can only reap its benefits if you try it first hand.
Before we part away, remember that the Pomodoro method is just that – a way for you to get into the zone and recharge your energy with regular breaks. If you happen to be half way through your work and the Pomodoro timer has ringed, stop it, continue with your task, and take a break only after you’ve finished it.
Under all conditions, don’t try to push it if it doesn’t work for you. To put it Ryan Holiday’s words:
What we need is something sustainable. Something balanced. Something deliberate without being forced. Purposeful without being obsessed with productivity.